Big Ten Links: Special teams, new faces, & tweets

When we watch Illinois, much figures to be different, says the venerable Loren Tate of the Champaign News-Gazette. One of the biggest differences will be on special teams, which had been, well, awful the last few seasons under Ron Zook. There is now a special teams coach in Tim Salem, who is one of the best in the business. It’s little details like this that could pay off big as the Illini begin a new era under Tim Beckman.

Special teams also are a big deal at Ohio State under Urban Meyer. But, it’s no shock that he always has placed value on such things. The guy is one of the best in the biz. Just ask him.

In fact, special teams are a big passion of Meyer. Oh, and there’s a link between new Illini coach Tim Beckman and Urban Meyer: The two worked together at Bowling Green when Meyer was head coach. So, you can see where Beckman learned to appreciate the nuances of the pooch punt.

Big Three: Steve Sipple and Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal-Star weigh in on three questions about the Cornhuskers as the season opener vs. Southern Miss bears down.

For me, the three big questions facing the Huskers are: 1. Offensive rhythm; 2. Playmakers on defense; 3. Passing of QB Taylor Martinez.

Hands on: Wisconsin wideout Nick Toon is gone. No problem, as Jared Abbrederis is primed to become the Badgers’ top target.

Not bad for a former walk-on, who I think will end up being a better wideout than Toon. Heck, Abbrederis may have been better than Toon last season. He will lead what could be one of the Big Ten’s most underrated receiving corps.

Up fronts: Much hand-wringing is being done about the Iowa running back situation. And, it’s deserved. But the defensive line may be as big of a concern in Iowa City.

But Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis give the unit good potential for a front whose four projected starters have just a combined 13 career starts. But potential looms despite the inexperience. Davis in particular has a chance to be special. The 6-5, 310-pound sophomore has played in only six games in his career, but he can be a force on the interior vs. the run.

Meet Mr. Donatelli: Speaking of Iowa, few programs have players who take more pride in playing for their home state. Hawkeye safety Tom Donatell is one of those guys. He’s an “Iowa guy.” And that’s why I love him.

Saturday is coming: Listen and watch Penn State coach Bill O’Brien talk about first-game jitters, linebacker Michael Mauti and backup quarterback Paul Jones. It’s all here.

On the subject of Penn State, Bob Flounders of the Harrisburg Patriot-News pulls the curtain back on the Nittany Lion program with this nice behind-the-scenes story.

Line item: How many times have read and listened to the notion that Michigan’s rebuilt defensive line that has three new starters will be no match for Alabama’s veteran offensive line that has four decorated starters returning? Too many for me to remember. Wolverine d-tackle Will Campbell has heard it a million times, too, and he thinks that notion is false.

He better be right. This is the matchup that figures to determine if Michigan will be able to pull the upset this Saturday in Arlington, Texas, vs. the defending national champion Crimson Tide. I can’t wait.

Game time: The great Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free-Press offers his game-by-game prediction of the Michigan State season. His final predicted record for the Spartans? 10-2.

If that happens, star defensive end William Gholston figures to have a big season. For Gholston, stats don’t matter—victories do. The guy is a monster off the edge who may be the top defensive end in the nation.


TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: It sounds like there will be a level of sophistication on the defense that may be on par with the offense. This could be fun to watch, with coordinator Ted Roof pushing the buttons.


My take: The day I watched Illinois practice, Hawthorne wasn’t full-go. I think it’s vital for him to focus on defense for now and not get overworked, as the staff must think it has enough weapons at receiver … for now.


My take:Is this as much about the Badgers not playing challenging non-league games as it is about their recent dominance? Hmmm. Still, it’s an impressive run.


My take: If we knew this, it would diminish his mystique. It’s that drive that makes him one of the nation’s best backs. I love the guy and want him on my team.


My take: Youth continues to be served in Bloomington. I hope this isn’t a bad thing. I want to see Kevin Wilson succeed.


BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is on Twitter and Facebook, all of his work is at btn.com/tomdienhart, and you can subscribe to it all via his RSS feed. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below.

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